While aircraft such as the X-47B
are paving the way for unmanned aircraft filling combat roles, autonomous aircraft are also being developed to tackle more mundane – but still dangerous – military operations. To this end, the first fully autonomous resupply, reconnaissance, surveillance and target-acquisition demonstration using the Squad Mission Support System
(SMSS) unmanned ground vehicle, K-MAX unmanned helicopter
and Gyrocam optical sensor was recently conducted at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Personal helper and service robots like Milo
from RoboDynamics have been in development for some time. Milo was a pretty basic machine, however. It certainly didn't have the dexterity to twist open a bottle like Honda's most recent ASIMO
. Nor could it gauge human reactions and crack jokes like the Pepper personal robot
that's due to be released next year. Now helper robot company Savioke has announced that it is to start trialing service robots for hotels. The SaviOne robot can autonomously deliver items to guests in hotel rooms.
Ants, schooling fish and flocking birds all have something in common – they can achieve things by working together that they could never do on their own. With that in mind, researchers are now looking into ways of allowing "swarms" of communicating robots
to accomplish tasks that are difficult or even impossible for single robots. Harvard University recently performed an unprecedented demonstration of that behavior, in which a batch of over 1,000 tiny Kilobots arranged themselves into a variety of pre-assigned two-dimensional shapes.
ESA’s last Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)-5
, Georges Lemaître, has arrived at the International Space Station. In what the space agency describes as a "flawless demonstration of technology and skill," the unmanned cargo ship autonomously docked itself while supervised by mission control in Toulouse, France and by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov inside the space station.
Driverless cars are an exciting glimpse of the future, with great potential to improve road safety. It seems the UK has caught on to this, announcing a £10 million (US$17 million) scheme to test driverless cars on public roads from January 2015.
In a small taste of things to come
in military operations, the US Marine Corps has tested a self-driving
mini-truck as part of the 2014 RIMPAC international naval exercise.
Unsustainable fishing in Belize has placed growing pressure on local anglers and the country's celebrated coral reef systems. Decades of decline has led to the introduction of catch limits and even the European Union blacklisting seafood imports from Belize for a perceived lack of action against illegal fishing. In an effort to better regulate the industry, the Belize Fisheries Department has begun using drones to monitor coastal areas for unlicensed and unlawful activity.
Last week, Orbital Sciences' second commercial resupply mission delivered two Project Tango
Google smartphones to the International Space Station. The sensor-filled phones will be used to create a detailed 3D map of the spacecraft, which will then help two soccer ball-sized, free-flying satellites autonomously navigate through some very tight spots.
As any professional photographer knows, setting up lights can be a hassle. This is often the case in the studio, but especially when shooting on location. Before too long, however, it may be possible to use hovering autonomous drones as light sources. In fact, that's just what a team from MIT and Cornell University has already done. Their system not only does away with light stands, but the light-equipped aircraft automatically moves to compensate for movements of the model or photographer.